Breathe correctly: exercises and techniques

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Most of us don’t breathe properly – but there are simple techniques you can try to test the difference. (Getty Images)

As adults, we take about 19,000 to 27,000 breaths each day, but like walking or talking, breathing is one of those things we seem to take for granted.

While many ancient cultures and civilizations have long understood the importance of proper breathing, it took a global pandemic, when respiratory issues were at the forefront, for many people to finally start paying attention to their breathing technique.

Learning to breathe properly can transform your life, helping to improve everything from sports performance to digestion, from concentration to sleep – it can even help you lose weight.

For James Nestor, author of Breath: the new science of a lost artit was the change he needed in his life.

Although relatively fit and healthy, Nestor had been wheezing for some time and tended to get sick. But after a course of “breathing” lessons, the wheezing stopped. “My doctor’s response was ‘here’s more antibiotics’ or ‘here’s a spray’ and I thought that couldn’t be true,” he says.

But as Nestor adds, breathing well won’t solve all your health problems, but it’s part of the basics we all need to make things better. “You can exercise all you want and go to the gym four hours a day, eat vegan, paleo, keto or whatever, but if you’re breathing dysfunctionally, you’ll never be truly healthy,” he says. he.

Read more: 5-Minute Breathing Exercise Lowers Blood Pressure More Than Walking, Study Finds

Girl with closed eyes leaning out of a car window and breathing deeply.

Breathing is so natural that most of us pay no attention to how we do it. (Getty Images)

He is right. According to breathing guru Richie ‘The Breath Guy’ Bostock, the benefits of better breathing will affect every aspect of your life.

“Interest in optimal breathing and what it can do for your physical, mental and emotional health has exploded due to its simplicity and effectiveness,” he suggests. “It is not necessary to have experience in meditation or mindfulness practice. You can do it anywhere and anytime. Within minutes of conscious breathing, you affect all of the physiological systems inside of you, improving your physical health, the way you think, and the way you feel.

By all accounts, modern humans have evolved to become arguably the worst breathers in the animal kingdom. Skeletal records of ancient humans have revealed that they mostly had perfectly straight teeth, larger sinus cavities, and larger mouths. In short, everything you need to breathe better.

Read more: This breathing technique could help you fall asleep in seconds

Today, humans are beset by respiratory problems like sleep apnea and sinusitis, the result, in part, of key anatomical changes to the human skull over time. Our mouths, for example, have become smaller, which means that our teeth no longer fit as they should. This means smaller airways and inevitable breathing problems.

Modern life is also not good for our breathing. Sedentary lifestyles, sitting hunched over computer screens, mean that our posture has deteriorated and the ability to take much-needed deep breaths has been compromised. Even the clothes we wear can restrict our breathing if they are too tight.

Man lying on a sofa using his laptop and mobile phone simultaneously.

Slumping on desks or working from our sofas has an effect on our posture and impacts our breathing. (Getty Images)

Then there is pollution. In 2019, research from Public Health England (PHE) found that long-term exposure to air pollution contributed to between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths each year in the UK, exacerbating asthma and caused respiratory diseases and lung cancer. But as Nestor explains, it’s a man-made problem that’s killing us.

“The further humans move away from industrialized society, the healthier we are,” he says. “If you look at the few remaining hunter-gatherer tribes, you will find that there is little or no asthma, chronic allergies, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease and much less lung disease. Then go back to the modern world, our world, and you have an environment where people eat artificial food, are bathed in artificial light all day and night, they don’t move enough, their breathing is obstructed or dysfunctional. in other ways – it’s a recipe for disaster.

“This is not some flakey New Age theory, but a scientific fact that I have learned from leading experts in the field. Just look at the increasing rates of dozens and dozens of diseases over the past century. This are diseases that modern humans have essentially created; they are diseases of industrial civilization.

Read more: Sleep Disorders in Adults: Breathing, Coping and Everything You Need to Know

Our widening waistlines are also disrupting our breathing with 63% of UK adults, or around 35 million, now classified as overweight or obese, according to data from Cancer Research.

Having too much fat inhibits your ability to breathe properly because it restricts your airwaves and lungs, but it also means that because there is less oxygen, you won’t be able to burn that fat as efficiently. This is why overweight and obese people tend to breathe through their mouths, which causes them to tend to breathe from the top of their chest, which leads to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

For Bostock, the most common breathing problem he encounters is a chest or clavicular breathing pattern, which tends to show up in people who are stressed or anxious. Not only can this lead to back, neck and shoulder pain, but since this style of breathing is only meant to be used in short bursts (for example, when we need to catch our breath after vigorous exercise), it can trigger your sympathetic nervous system, sending your body into the kind of stress response it doesn’t need.

Older woman breathing slowly.

Take a few moments a day to really think about your breathing and try slow, deep breaths. (Getty Images)

Breathing techniques to try

Bostock suggests trying “coherent breathing” and learning to breathe through the diaphragm. Try to take five deep breaths per minute for a few minutes. The slower pace will help balance the nervous system and promote a range of benefits including better digestion and better sleep, as well as feelings of calm.

“When it comes to correcting breathing, the only place to start is with your diaphragm,” he insists. “It is the most important muscle in the movement of breathing.”

Nestor, on the other hand, advocates breathing through your nose as often as possible and, also, breathing slowly, rhythmically and lightly.

“It seems so simple, doesn’t it?” he says. “But eating your vegetables is just as simple and not many people do it.”

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